Traditionally, the architect plays the lead role in the building process in terms of design, specification and project management. Following at least 7 years training, all architects must register with the Architects Registration Board (ARB, formerly ARCUK). It is a criminal offence to trade as an architect unless registered. Most, but not all, architects join the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) becoming chartered architects. Other titles including architectural technicians, technologists and assistants can be found in practices. Although not architects, they often carry out some similar design and specification roles, generally at a more detailed level. Architectural students have to work in architects’ offices as part of their education and could well be active specifiers.
Architecture is a vocation, not a job. Today, it is one of the lowest paid professions, involving long hours and tight deadlines. Architects want their buildings built with the best quality that can be afforded and the price of products may well not be of primary importance. Specifying products and materials is a major part of their role and the responsibility for that choice rests with the architect: it is always a serious decision. Many have included environmental and ethical considerations for decades – well ahead of the current push for sustainability. Making mistakes can be expensive and architects are obliged tocarry insurance for professional indemnity liability in case they are sued. Insurers take an interest in the competence of their architect clients and the suitability of products they specify.
Architects are surprisingly knowledgeable but can never be experts in all aspects of a building. Today, they are perhaps less arrogant than previous generations and ready to learn from manufacturers who demonstrate real expertise. As in previous recessions, the architectural profession is suffering badly with many practices disappearing or changing beyond recognition. But many will stay in the profession and new firms are appearing and growing. The architectural profession is changing fast and our understanding of it essential to ensuring that we continue to speak the same language as this most influential group.